Thirty years on and the British furniture maker known professionally as David Linley is busier than ever creating works for a long list of international clients. His eponymous brand remains, however, quintessentially British, underlined by his warmth, ingenuity and creativity. Born into the Royal family, David is the son of Antony Armstrong-Jones, who became the 1st Earl of Snowdon after he married David’s mother, Princess Margaret, the sister of Queen Elizabeth II. David was styled as Viscount Linley and after his father passed away in 2017, he became the 2nd Earl of Snowdon. As of May 2019, he is 21st in line to the British throne.
We spoke to David about starting up his business and the future of his brand, and – with Monaco Yacht Show starting next week – about the specific design process needed for a life at sea….
What does the notion of British craftsmanship mean to you, and how has it changed over the years?
Craftsmanship used to be everyday currency. There were workshop guilds until the 20th century, when mass production came in, and machines replaced the need for handmade objects. Our generation has lived through an interesting time where mass manufacturing gathered considerable importance over the years, but now we are seeing an ever-increasing backlash of facilities which have been setup to make small volumes of ethically produced items. I believe craftsmanship exists as a result of an appetite for craft and by nature, an appreciation of the making process. Today we have a better balance – we have access to mass produced items where necessary, but also the luxury of bespoke and handmade items, like our furniture, which we appreciate and enjoy for the crafted character that it brings.
How has Linley as a business evolved over the last 30 years?
The company has grown significantly from when I started making. It was just my mallet, chisel and I in a beautiful workshop in Surrey, making one-off commissions. When demand meant it was impossible for me to make everything on my own, I opened a showroom at Number 1 Kings Road in 1985 to expand and create an environment to display my furniture.
With bespoke pieces, how important is it to understand their lasting impact over generations?
I always say what man has made, man can make again. Making pieces for today’s environmentally conscious world, it is important that they are made to last through generations and to use the skills of restoration craftspeople to add to the life span of our furniture. The nostalgic idea of having something passed down through generations, that was originally designed for your grandparents, or even great grandparents, is always an appealing concept. It is encouraging to see people are starting to appreciate and relate to the same feeling when buying antique furniture these days. Actually, Sir Roy Strong, former Director of the V&A, once said that “David Linley’s furniture will become the antiques of the future!”
What furniture trends should we be paying attention to this season?
I don’t agree with following trends; as a company, Linley has always evolved organically rather than changing aesthetic every season. We always aim to improve our designs with new product ranges, creating pieces that are more suitable for the current day and the needs of our clients. Sometimes it can involve exploring a different design method or a new crafting technique. Evolution is the key. With consumer’s needs in mind, the aim is to make them feel part of the Linley journey and create pieces that last, rather than items that are thrown away and replaced with new trends.
What is the most outlandish commission you have ever received?
Claridge’s Hotel is my highlight of many commissions, which all have a unique place in my memory. With this project, we had to incorporate so many elements, such as catering for the needs of the hotel and their clients, many of whom we have privately worked for, as well as preserving all the historic and architectural elements of the building. The Claridge’s Map Room is particularly eye-catching. Four hundred man hours went into creating the marquetry map that adorns the back wall. I have vivid childhood memories of going to Claridge’s on special occasions. To me, it is important to re-create that feeling.
What is your favourite piece of furniture?
I admire lots of different furniture and styles, but I recently inherited a student piece, that I made in 1980, and gave as a gift to my father as I couldn’t think of anyone else who would inspire me as much. It was placed on his desk and he would always show it to people whom he photographed.
Where does your own love of design come from, and who inspired you growing up?
My love of furniture comes from being curious – I was thought by my grandmother to look for secret compartments in cabinets of curiosity. I say the same to my children, “be curious!” I take them to museums to see one special object, just like my parents did when I was a child. You can’t teach people to be interested in design, but you can intrigue their curiosity and hope that creativity channels from there. In the world of furniture making, I think there are a lot of influencers. For me, it was my teacher, David Bucher at Bedales, who was keen for me to make things and not to worry about the academic world. We all went to see him years after graduating. He was a father figure to us all at Bedales and was so proud of us and what we achieved after leaving the school. I can name many more like Wendell Castle, whose work inspires me and various other people at Parnham. Malcolm Appleby, who also taught me, was also a great influence and someone who I have had the pleasure of collaborating with, creating a piece for Masterpiece 2017 and a special edition Shooting Companion box.
Do you think that the art of craftsmanship is being lost on the young of today?
I think we can’t generalise, and I won’t be the one to do so. I do think there is greater understating of craftsmanship and creativity in schools and it is contributing to the industry considerably. There is a shift from when I was at school, when you were supposed to do well academically, but now it is acceptable to be entrepreneurial, make things, and it is appreciated and admired. At QEST, the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust, they endeavour to fund the education of talented and aspiring craftspeople, which helps sustain Britain’s cultural heritage. QEST is at the forefront of supporting education and excellence in craft in the UK. Meanwhile, our workshops also always take younger enthusiastic trainees and develop their skills to make high quality furniture. People these days take interest and want to take responsibility in what they are purchasing, and that demand has resulted in the younger generation rejecting higher paid jobs for more fulfilling career opportunities.
As well as homes, you’ve also designed furniture for yachts. How different is the design process for boats?
In yachts, attention to detail and tolerances are much higher. The nature of being over water and movements of the sea need to be considered, as well as how the piece is attached to the wall and floors. We are more mindful of humidity and salt contents; also weight becomes a considerable issue as it has an impact on the motion of the yacht. We engineer and design with marine requirements in mind, like using lightweight core materials, or laminating layers of stone to reduce weight. When designing in the marine world, materials are selected specifically for living on board; this results in products that withhold test of time in a different environment. At Linley, we’ve been making pieces specifically for yachts for 25 years. Not just furniture, but watch boxes, and binocular cases. Our bespoke accessories inspire great affection but are also practical – their quality is always appropriate to the yacht.
How do you juggle your two careers, running Linley and also being Chairman of Christie’s? Is establishing a good work/life balance important to you?
If I knew that one, I would be a millionaire! I try to juggle my life in a harmonious way where I value the effects of my labour. Being curious means that I go to Portobello Market with my children and collect interesting things. The pleasure for me is that my daughter has now become interested in making jewellery, because she spent her weekends with me in the market searching for curiosities. My life and work balance I get wrong every day, but I aspire to get it right and make sure I can see my career path developing, and I hope to see my children have the same work ethic as my grandmother thought me to have. We have a strong work ethic which rarely allows us to sit back and relax, but reflection is as important as progress.
Finally, the one question we ask everyone! What is your favourite luxury?
Time! Having the time to do something is luxury to me. My motorcycle, for example, cuts time for getting from one place to another for me and therefore I can’t live without it! My Bamford watch is my favourite luxury that I wear on my wrist every day. It is a fine piece of craftsmanship which inspires me every time I look at it for its complexity in design and excellence.
For further information, go to www.davidlinley.com.